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Diagnosing Bites PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 01 April 2009 13:05

Diagnosing Mysterious"Bug Bites"


Parasitosis is the condition of being parasitized, bitten, or lived on by another organism. Recognizing this condition in people, however, is not always easy, and undiagnosed "bites" are one of the most frustrating of all pest control problems. This fact sheet is intended to shed some light on situations where diagnosis of a biting problem is difficult to obtain.    


Q. What could be biting me indoors?   Not many arthropod pests actually infest human skin or clothing. The few that do include:

1.    Lice. Includes head lice, body lice, and pubic lice. 1-3 mm in length. Feed on blood. Transmitted by close physical contact with another infested person. Body lice, which resemble head lice, live in clothing and are rare in the U.S., except among the homeless population.

2.    Scabies mites. Microscopic. Feed on human skin. Transmitted by physical contact with infected human or pet. Only the human scabies mite (not found on pets) can propagate itself in human skin.

3.    Hair follicle mites. Microscopic. Live in hair follicles and sebaceous glands of humans.

Considered harmless. Other arthropods that are sometimes found indoors and are capable of biting humans include:  

1.Fleas. 2-6 mm in length. Feed on blood. Require animal host, such as dog or cat, on which to breed. Bites tend to occur mostly on lower legs.

2.Chiggers. Microscopic. Larval form is parasitic on man. Found exclusively outdoors in grass, soil, weedy areas; however itching may not occur for several hours after encountering the mites. Chigger bites are usually concentrated around areas of tight clothing, such as under socks and around waist.

3.Bed bugs. Adults 5 mm long. Flattened, oval-shaped insects that hide during day and emerge at night to feed on warm-blooded animals. Human bed bugs are becoming more common in Texas, especially in apartments and hotels where residents come and go, and where the bugs can move from one unit to others. Nevertheless, they are still relatively uncommon in homes. Bird and bat bugs, relatives of the bed bug may also be encountered occasionally. Bites to humans generally occur only in areas of a structure next to the nesting sites of bats or birds, such as chimney swifts and purple martins. Bed bug bites are painless but can lead to itching and inflammation, sometimes accompanied by series of red blotches on the skin.

4.Conenose (or kissing) bugs. Relatively large, 10-30 mm long. Emerge at night to feed on vertebrate blood. Uncommon in well-constructed homes. Bites on hands, arms, feet, head or other areas exposed during sleep.

5.Mosquitoes. Generally small (2-4 mm). Feed on blood of humans and other animals. Active mostly in evenings and mornings. Causes raised welts on exposed skin.

6.Thrips. Minute, elongated insects (1-2 mm long) that feed on flowers and growing plants. Occasionally land on skin and "nip" people, especially outdoors. Slight irritation at time of biting; however causes no visible welts or bites.

7.Spiders. Variety of sizes, eight legs. Occasionally bite people when threatened. Individuals vary in their reactions to bites, though generally harmless. Only truly dangerous spiders in Texas are the black widow and brown recluse.

8.Bird and rodent mites. Minute, 1 mm long. Infest rodents and birds, occasionally bite humans. See the following section on mites.

Most of these pests infest homes temporarily and can be controlled via pesticide treatment. Arthropod bites are often hard to diagnose without an examination, good description of the bite(s), information about how and when the bites occurred, and (ideally) a specimen of the suspected pest. Although many biting arthropods leave clues that help with diagnosis (such as the pattern and types of lesions), it is often very difficult to determine the cause of a bite with certainty without a specimen.    


Q. What kind of mites bite people?  Mites are small arthropods with eight legs, more closely related to spiders than insects. Several mite species can be found in homes and offices. Some are associated with stored foods, such as grain, cheese, and flour mites. These are most commonly found in food storage areas with high humidities. Others, like bird and rodent mites, are found in buildings with bird or rodent infestations. 

Bird and rodent mites, like the northern fowl mite, house mouse mite, and tropical rat mite, are among the most common culprits in difficult-to-diagnose arthropod infestations. These mites live in bird and rodent nests. Although these mites occasionally bite humans, they do not feed or reproduce off their natural hosts. The most effective method for eliminating such mite infestations is to control and remove any rodents (e.g., house mice, rats, squirrels, etc.) or birds (e.g., swallows, sparrows, starlings, pigeons) from the structure. This is best accomplished with the help of a professional pest control company familiar with control of these pests. Once the hosts of these mites are eliminated, insecticidal sprays can be used by a professional pest control operator to reduce residual mite populations.  

Only two kinds of mites actually live and feed in human skin: the scabies mite and the hair follicle mite. Of the two, only the scabies mite commonly causes bites or itching. Scabies must be diagnosed by a physician, usually via scrapings from the skin. Treatment consists of various prescription medicated creams and ointments. Hair follicle mites are harmless, though may be associated in some individuals with a type of acne. Follicle mites can be found in the skin of most adult humans.    


Q. If the problem isn't a bug, what could it be? When all attempts to identify a biting arthropod fails, or when a description of the affliction fails to fit the criteria of any known parasitic arthropod, there must be an alternative explanation. A variety of environmental factors, for example, can produce the false perception of insect bites. 

Medical conditions such as diabetes, liver disease, thyroid disorders, kidney disease, icterus, lymphoblastoma, pellagra, and others can cause perceptions of parasitosis, dermatitis, or hives. In addition, certain medications can cause unusual skin sensations and itching. Changes in medication can cause a variety of novel side effects that mimic parasitosis.  

Enzyme-based detergents, fabric softeners, soaps, creams, makeup, deodorants, perfumes and other toiletries can cause skin sensations or reactions that can be mistaken for insect bites. 

House plants, cold water vaporizers, humidifiers, and dirty air vents can be sources of airborne mold spores, mildews, and bacteria that could cause skin reactions. 

Higher indoor humidities combined with dust and dander accumulations in furniture can support populations of house dust mites. Dust mites do not feed on, or live on, people; rather, their presence in bedding and furniture in the home can cause allergies for people exposed to tiny, airborne fragments of their shed skins and feces.  

Allergies due to pollens, molds and mildews and cockroach infestations can cause hives and other reactions that can be mistaken for insect bites. 

Lower humidities, especially during the winter months, can increase static electricity in a home or office environment. Static charges can cause small "shocks" that feel like bites. Fibers, paper slivers, and the like, attracted by static charges to legs and skin of workers are also sometimes the cause of "bite" complaints among office workers.  

In offices, chemicals in carbonless paper and photocopier chemicals can cause reactions in some individuals. Paper splinters from forms or computer paper, carpet or insulation fibers, and wires from computer assembly lines have all been confused with insect bites.    


Q. Can bites be imaginary? A delusion is a "false belief that cannot be corrected by reason... or even by the evidence of the patient's own senses". Delusory parasitosis is a recognized medical condition characterized by an unfounded, yet unshakable, belief that live insects are present in the skin. Classified as a form of hypochondria, delusory parasitosis, like other mental disfunctions, arises from emotional or physiological problems over which the sufferer may have no control. In some cases, this condition can been traced to stress or trauma in the patient's life. The following description from the Physician's Guide to Arthropods of Medical Importance (J.A. Goddard, CRC Press, 1993) further describes patterns and circumstances typical of delusory parasitosis: 

Sometimes an initial and real insect infestation precedes and triggers the delusion. ...the "bugs" may appear and disappear while they are being watched; they enter the skin and reappear and invade the hair, nose, and ears...The patients claim that the "bugs" are able to survive repeated insecticidal sprays and the use of medicated shampoos and lotions. Frequently there is a history of numerous visits to medical doctors and dermatologists. Lesions may be present, although neurotic excoriation (self-inflicted skin wounds) may be the cause. ...Out of desperation the victims may move out of their home, only to report later that the "bugs" have followed them there too. An affected person may be so positive of his infestation and give such a detailed description that other family members may agree with the patient. They may even be "infected" themselves, thus the delusion has been transferred.    


Q. "I know I am being bitten by tiny bugs that you can't see! They come in and out of my skin. They're in my clothes! They jump on me! They only come out after 5:00 at night! Sometimes they change color. " 

None of these statements are likely to be true, based on the appearance and behavior of medically important arthropods. Taken individually, each one could be a reasonable (if inaccurate) response by someone who believes they are suffering from an arthropod infestation. However, when no insects or mites can be found by pest control professionals, the problem is confined to one or very few people, reasonable environmental or medical explanations have been ruled out, and a pattern of unreliable statements (such as the examples above) are produced by the victim, the possibility of self delusion must be considered.    


Q. I just want to get rid of this problem. What should I do? Here are some suggestions for dealing with an undiagnosed itching or "biting" problem:

1.    Vacuum and dust the premises thoroughly. Clean office equipment, such as paper handling machinery, frequently. Vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters are most effective in preventing recirculation of allergens during cleaning.

2.    Change or clean air filters in air handling units monthly. Consider replacing standard fiberglass filters with electrostatic-type filters.

3.    Experiment with discontinuing use of any "new" laundry, dishwashing soap, air fresheners, cosmetics, perfumes or other personal care products.

4.    Reduce mold and mildew problems by installing a vapor barrier and vents in crawl spaces, or installing a dehumidifier and/or air conditioning in damp rooms. Correct plumbing leaks or condensation problems.

5.    Consult with your doctor about possible allergies or other undiagnosed medical conditions that might cause skin reactions.

6.    Consult with your doctor about possible adverse reactions to "new" medications.

7.    Have pets checked by a veterinarian for possible mite or scabies infestations.

8.    Consult with a pest control professional

9.    Eliminate rodent or bird infestations with the help of a pest control professional.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 May 2009 15:24


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